|The Venetian, Macau
Casinos. You either love them or hate them. On the one hand, yes, they can be depressing depositories of crass, desperate, lonely and dejected people. On the other hand – hear me out – they can be the epicentre of light-hearted fun, frivolity and even a little bit of magic. That’s right, magic.
One thing I can say for sure, casinos have often featured somewhere in my solo travels, and have often been, dare I say it, a beacon of (neon) light on a dark and lonely horizon. Especially on those evenings when you’ve done all the sightseeing you possibly could and suddenly you’re staring at the four walls of your downtown hotel and it’s only 7.30pm. Sure, there’s the theatre and the movies, and a glass of wine whilst reading a book in a quaint pub. Sure. I’ve certainly undertaken all of those activities on my own and thoroughly enjoyed them. Sure. Or …
… there’s the casino. On the one hand, you can sit quietly by a roulette wheel for hours without anyone really bothering you or asking you to order a drink or get out. Contented alone time but amongst real people and life. Just avoid eye contact and no one will try pick you up either. On the other hand the casino is also full of lots of friendly folk who are willing to chat and for a champion chatter like me, that’s a lovely bonus. Casual gamblers the world over like to compare notes, see how you’re faring, ask where you’re from and generally smile and are pleasant. (Note: serious gamblers do not.)
‘What else’, you ask? Well, you don’t actually have to gamble. Casinos always have free entertainment and cheap drinks. You can listen to a band, watch performers, enjoy magicians all while contentedly sipping $5 gin and tonics. Do you like dancing? There’s usually a free bar to do that in as well. The dance floor is usually packed – no one will notice that you’re bopping along on your own. Empty dance floor? Pretend you’re drunk and dance anyway!
There are, however, some pitfalls you should be aware of. Crowne Plaza Casino, Canberra for instance.
This casino (and I’ve been to quite a few!) unfortunately holds the honour of being possibly the most glum and tragic casino in the world. One big empty room with signs and information about entertainment but no actual entertainment. High minimum bets and burly, surly looking staff. If there had ever been any fun or magic in this casino it died a long time ago. In the dim lighting you could clearly see the silhouettes of slumped shoulders and hung heads. It’s possible no one had ever won anything in this casino. Ever. It had a funereal air and certainly had the capacity to suck the life out of any unfortunate person who accidently and blindingly stumbled inside it unwittingly.
Stay clear of those casinos. They will only make you feel more wretched and lonely/ homesick.
And there’s also a little thing I like to call ‘The Witching Hour’. At around 11pm, especially on a Friday or Saturday night, a group of tipsy 18 year old ‘men’ will somehow stumble past security and gaze around in awe. It’s usually a first or second visit and they swagger up to the roulette table with no clue whatsoever, nudge each other and say things like, ‘Oi, can you put something on the zero?’. They proceed to spill their drinks, bump into everyone at the table and generally make crass jokes and giggle like school girls. I have watched one of these witching hour heathens dig deep into his pockets and pull out about $8.50 worth of change and slam that onto the table proudly (next to the flurry of $100 bills). ‘Put it all on black!’, he cries with gusto. He is inevitably drily told that the outside bet is a $10 minimum at which point his kind friends rustle up a $2 coin and wait with baited breath as the wheel spins.
‘Ah, this game is shit!’. He just resists kicking the table and walks away disgusted.
Look, the witching hour kids can be entertaining in their own way. As long as you don’t get beer on your dress.
But back to the positives! Even if you’re not travelling solo, what a great way to spend some alone time even whilst with your companion! You’re in the same place, at the same time, you can still talk about the experience together, but you can, if you choose, just sit at the bar quietly having a drink on your own while they play Blackjack. A moment of peace and silence. Ahhhh…..
And casinos may even save you from natural disasters! In Singapore I was stuck in a resort while a torrential and frightening storm raged outside. Every room in this hotel, including shops, cafes, and bars, was floor to ceiling glass so that every flash of lightening struck me with the fear of God and imminent catastrophe. Except the casino. Comforting with its lack of any windows and reassuringly dim lighting, I peacefully and repeatedly played zero at the roulette wheel until all danger had passed and I was able to emerge an hour later in blissful calm and tranquillity.
Ok, well visiting casinos on holidays is not everyone’s thing. I’m just saying – if you find yourself yawning before the sun has gone down and with an hour or two of evening time to fill, it’s there if you need it!